Behind the lines

CBS’ new blog bravely, transparently, and wisely invited Jay Rosen to write a guest post and he didn’t waste the opportunity to speak directly to the people of CBS News about Rathergate, a year later.

It’s a pity that the people of CBS News do not speak back.

I fear they’ll fear doing that — and also that they’ll look at the post and see that, unfortunately, trolls have moved into the comments and the discussion there is not deep. That is not helped by CBS’ inexplicable decision to put a 500-character limit on comments (this isn’t TV, folks: bits are not scarce) as well as its decision to shut off comments after 24 hours (time’s no longer scarce, either, guys). The discussion over at Jay’s blog, under the same essay, is much better: more substance, more intelligence, more relevance, more to chew on.

And that says a lot: Jay has built a community of conversation — around what we used to think of as a reputation, or even as a brand — and CBS has not yet done that on its blog (though it is a bit soon for that). But isn’t that interesting: The giant and allegedly venerated institution of professionalism has a tougher time getting a good conversation going than the lone prof with no tangible media assets.

Jay’s post is good but just as with Rathergate itself, the aftermath that’s just as interesting.

  • As much as I admire Jay’s work, I think what happens on his website falls considerably short of a conversation. Virtually every thread is hijacked by anti-MSM blather of the most tedious and banal kind. As a longtime journalist, I would love to find a blog where it’s possible to have a real conversation about the important issues in modern journalism; unfortunately, Jay’s place ain’t it.

  • Old Grouch

    “Virtually every thread is hijacked by anti-MSM blather…”

    Perhaps a datapoint? :-)

  • John

    Also, Jay’s pieces are extremely long and sometimes arcane. Over time, it’s just too painful to continually subject yourself to that unless you are fairly deeply committed to nuanced discussion of the topics. The CBS web site has no such past practice. Its audience is not there for hours-long philosophical ruminations. Its audience includes the voice of (the rest of) the people, not just the media-political-philosophical elite who would visit Jay’s site (and the sites of most of the heavier A-list thinkers).

  • great, maybe this will finally get them to make rather resign, and fire 3-4 staffers.

    way to beat a dead horse.

  • Jeff and Commenters,

    First, thanks for the “bravely, transparently, and wisely.” Trust me, it was brave. Appreciate it. But, man, you guys are merciless if things aren’t done to your liking — and fast, as in immediately.

    Housekeeping: we’re going to change to word limit on comments. We had no idea how many to expect, what they would be like (trust me, people have stronger feelings about CBS News than they do about Buzzmachine). And besides, you helped us out so why didn’t tell me? We’ll fix that and other procedural imperfections. We said up front we were newbies and would be listening for suggestions. Why is everyone so snarky, though, when they have simple problems with stuff like character limits or the order of comments? Just wondering.

    As for — “It’s a pity that the people of CBS News do not speak back” — I guess, I’d say be patient. The Public Team people — me included — do not speak for CBS News. I think it’s not realistic to expect CBS’ers to jump into the public combat zone of the comment box in the first week — or weeks. I mean, do you see any other MSM outfit doing anything like Public Eye? Even newspapers that have ombudsman don’t have responses or comments of reporters and editors. We have a ton of that in the blog itself in the first week and I hope over time that will extand to dialogue in the comments. I know you’ve given us a lot of credit, but… you’re tough.

    As for the quality of the comments, we’re told this takes time too. There are a lot of knee-jerk and really mean-spirited msm-haters who aren’t interested in conversation and who do spoil the well. But I hope after a few weeks, the cream of commentariat spends more time with us. You said it takes a blog months to find its rhythm after all.

    So allies or skeptics, we’re totally open to suggestions, hints and all forms of feedback:

    Dick Meyer,

  • Dick:
    Thanks for the response. And, yes, you’re right: It does take time. My real point is that the trolls do not create an inviting atmosphere for CBS folks to come join in and that’s too bad.
    But you know what: They’d be welcome at Jay’s place and perhaps they should respond there.

  • I resemble that MSM-hater thing, but try to be generous spirited — note that when I complained about the comment order I complained about my own blog, too. (Is anger always mean-spiritedness?)

    Jay’s PressThink is the BEST conversation I’ve found about the media. I’m willing to keep trying others to find better. Yes, it’s long posts, but often only 1 a week or so. (Makes it so I come here much much less often). Any suggestions?

    Yes, we “MSM is biased against Reps” types constantly attack the MSM bias we see, many in the MSM constantly deny it. How else should the conversation go between folk who disagree, strongly, on something — but keep talking to each other?

    It seems the alternative is an echo chamber (like Little Green Footballs, or Daily Kos); no great conversation there.

    It’s great, and surprising, to see a Dick Meyer comment here. Too.

  • ss

    Dick Meyer: “Why is everyone so snarky, though, when they have simple problems with stuff like character limits or the order of comments?”

    Liberty Dad: “It’s great, and surprising, to see a Dick Meyer comment here.”

    I think the latter answers the former. CBS and the MSM are (and are perceived as) clunky, bohemoth, inhuman, unresponsive, soulless corporations. They don’t get “pleases and thank yous” like real-live flesh and blood bloggers. We “little people” are certain the MSM doesn’t give a damn.

    MSM entities don’t respond, and have no reputation for responding, to polite suggestions from the meek. If we’re lucky, they might print our “letter to the editor” or pass our suggestion along to some peon in the marketing department. They are governed by focus-groups, poll data, ratings, and internal bureaucracy. They jump only when slammed by mass mailing campaigns, bad ratings, lawsuits, or advertiser pressure. Any humanity within CBS is a mere cog and will inform us that his opinions “are not necessarily those of CBS, its advertisers, or affiliated companies.” Ach, the futility! And if we’re just talking to a wall, we might as well vent.

    As a commenter pointed out on Jay Rosen’s site, the MSM are simply not involved in the conversation. They are just soliloquizing, and fewer people are bothering to listen. I’m not sure that CBS can hope to replicate the intimate dialog that occurs elsewhere on the Internet. It’s nice to see them trying, though.

  • I’ve gotta say there’s a kernel of truth in SS’s comment above. Have you ever, as a regular citizen, called up a media company to complain about a story that was inaccurate, or unfair, or incomplete. First, good luck getting anyone on the phone. Or how about you mail us a letter and we’ll think about it.

    I worked on media and knew exactly how to quash comments and complaints from the outside. After all, I was the person working for the company with ink by the barrel. Who were these little people anyway?

    To Dick Meyer, please, please keep you comments open for more than 24 hours. I’ve conversed in threads that have gone on for days. There’s no deadline to meet here, no broadcast date. Let it fly and see what happens. So what if people holler and moan? Let ’em. See what happens. I can’t imagine that a huge company like CBS couldn’t handle a few trolls.

    Just as an aside, often when I look at network news and publications like Newsweek, it is so painfully obvious that the people behind them live and work in the NYC environs. I used to live and work there too. Now I don’t. I’m amazed at how differently people think who aren’t there. Really. You all ought to leave the Big Apple and put your headquarters somewhere that resembles what is probably more the mainstream culture…

  • To SS: I get your point. Consider a couple mitiigating factors. The sheer volume of input we demons of msm get is mind-boggling and impossible to respond to, which is not to say we couldn’t have public conversations that are responsive; that’s the whole zeitgesit of Public Eye. I write a column on ( and answer every single e-mail and publish many. It takes a huge amount of time and my kids don’t appreciate it.

    To Jenny D: We’re considering extending the comment period. There are a bunch of issues invloved, some legal. I think we still need to learn more about the volumne of commenting we’re going to get.

  • I never understood American network news.

    The titles would open with that very dramtic BOM-BOM-BOM music, then Jennings/Browkaw/Rather would start speaking in a very grave baritone about SOME TERRIBLY IMPORTANT story and then after 2 minutes, a sudden break and some actor would start talking about Dristan or Sominex. Oh, and with the volume turned up.

    I never understood this- if the story was SO IMPORTANT, then why do they start talking about over-the-counter medicine after 2 minutes?

    Could you imagine Churchill interrupting his “We will fight them on the beaches” speech in order to shill some NyQuil or Sudafed?

    Network news always seemed to like the trappings of authority, but somehow never quite earned it, for they always seemed far too interested in their own commercial agenda.

    It’s hard serving two masters, I suppose.

  • Ric Locke


    It’s Hobson’s choice.

    The U.S. system is to depend on advertising for actual revenue; the readers and/or viewers are incidental, to a first approximation. This gives the effect you note — the ads are normally intrusive, and often offensively so.

    Other countries, notably Britain, use what are to all practical purposes Government bureaucracies. This can work fairly well at first, but the Iron Law of Bureaucracy cuts in, and the purpose of the organization becomes the care, feeding, and perpetuation of the bureaucracy itself; the readers and/or viewers are incidental.

    There doesn’t appear to be a solution. The U.S. military has a partial one for the Iron Laws — being by definition a Government bureaucracy, they limit any one person’s time in any given job. Two years, IIRC, long enough to learn to do the job, not long enough to get embedded in the bureaucratic system. Network news used to have a different system, in which the Anchor was a major personality and could insist that the ads be less bold as a tradeoff for attracting more eyeballs. That doesn’t work any more, for a whole list of reasons, chief among them being that attempts to wring revenue out of the news resulted in severe dilution of the Anchor’s prominence and authority, as you observe.

    I’m not smart enough to have what I consider useful advice. But it’s fairly clear that if something isn’t done the whole mess is going down, not like the Titanic in a dramatic “blurp” and a swirl of foam, but gradually, gradually sinking in a quicksand of blog snarks and decreasing circulation. Pity. I’m getting to be officially an Old Fart, and it would be sorta nice if something I remembered endured.


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